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I am Chinese, when I read a book with the title "The Art of XYZ" I always assume doing XYZ is an art, requiring creative skills. A good example is The Art of War

But the more I read the books with that title format, the more I doubt about it. For example after I read a book called "The Art of Project Management" I think what the author talks about is not art at all, just common sense. It doesn't require highly skilled professional to do what the author talked.

Or this book "The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters" ? Why does gathering deserve a title called "The Art of Gathering" ?

So I was wondering does the title really imply an art, an creative skill, having such connotation or it is just a way to prompt the book

BTW I know this series "The Art of ..." but my question is not about them.

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  • The Chinese title is ”孙子兵法“, "法" by itself is indeed commonly translated as law or method. But because it was written at least 2500 years and a truly classic. In Chinese we do see it as an art. Jul 11 at 14:44
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    Using art in a book title implies clearly that This book is outstanding. It will elevate you to lofty fame. Buy it now. Jul 11 at 15:03
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    Do you want to know whether the word “art” in English can be applied to something that is not generally regarded as creative? If so change your question. A book title can mean anything the author wishes. “Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance” seems to me, a deliberate example of confounding expectation. (But I haven’t actually read the book.)
    – David
    Jul 11 at 18:30
  • @David It is good to know whether art in English can be applied to something that is not generally regarded as creative but my question is mainly about the book title. As matter of fact I accept the answer about "The Art of Computer Programming", even though other answers are good too, because I am a software engineer. Jul 12 at 2:27
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    It is up to you which answer to accept. In my view none present a rigorous evidence-based account of the use of the word in the English language. But perhaps that is an art.
    – David
    Jul 12 at 7:55

8 Answers 8

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Sometimes it does. In the first paragraph of his preface, Donald E, Knuth explained why he chose the title, The Art of Computer Programming.

The process of preparing programs for a digital computer is especially attractive, not only because it can be commercially and scientifically rewarding, but because it can be an aesthetic experience much like composing poetry or music. This book [...] has been designed to train the reader in various skills that go into a programmer’s craft.

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  • Well, I am a software engineer and of course I know "The Art of Computer Programming" (although I did not read it). So I accept your answer even though other answers are also good. lol Jul 12 at 2:21
  • @Qiulang邱朗 The other answers are very good!
    – Davislor
    Jul 12 at 2:26
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    Another Knuth-related choice: TeX was derived from the Greek root τεχ-, which covered both concepts we would consider separately as "art" and "technology". (The word τέχνη could be translated as "art" or "craft, skill, trade" depending on context.)
    – chepner
    Jul 12 at 15:20
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One of Oxford's definitions of art is a skill at doing a specified thing, typically one acquired through practice (Lexico). In this sense, it doesn't necessarily mean a creative skill, just something that you have to learn how to do properly.

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    For example, see idea in US patent law of "a person skilled in the art", referring to having an ability in a technical field.
    – Valkor
    Jul 13 at 7:53
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While it certainly can imply skill, I think what these titles have in common is that they want to emphasize the creativity and imagination of that particular subject.

Art in this sense is not just about the skill, but about our common conception of what art entails, including innovation and sophistication.

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  • 4
    Yes. And emphasize is the key word. A great deal of art is emphasis, and that sort of slides away into advertising, which is also an attempt at gaining attention. So the galaxy of art is surrounded by clusters of wanna-bes and self-grandizers, who will proudly declare themselves artists, because anybody can. Hence the glut of "The Art of ..." books. Some are art, and some aren't art. You decide. Jul 11 at 12:40
  • I'm on the fence about this answer. Can you cite any "art of . . ." examples in which the focus is clearly not on skill but instead on creativity, innovation, etc.? Jul 12 at 1:11
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The use of the word 'Art' is just to promote the book, and has no bearing on the subject matter.

Sometimes, the word "Art" can be used to refer to the role of intuition/experience in a task, as opposed to logic and rules. A relatively common expression is "x is more an Art than a Science", which means that performing x at a high level cannot easily be distilled into an algorithm/process, or that if there are established rules in the field, to be a successful practitioner one must frequently ignore the rules/behave inconsistently.

It is ludicrous to claim that something like Project Management is this type of skill. In fact, as an engineering graduate I can't think of any skill which is less an Art than Project Management. The entire field seems based around regimenting, rationalising, and removing individual whims and intuitions from the process (which is not a criticism! PM is very effective).

Describing something as an 'art' implies that it will be fun, whimsical, creative, and non-rigorous. Of course people marketing a book have an incentive to describe its content as these things. Also, because being an 'artist' carries positive social connotations, practitioners of a field have a social incentive to describe their field as an Art.

The inevitable result is that the word "Art" will be bled dry of its meaning, and so marketers will find new words to flog to death.

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    As a matter of fact I gave "The Art of Project Management" a low rating. But I have to say PM does sometime require intuition/experience. Jul 12 at 5:45
  • I agree. But as far as skills go, I'm sure it's far towards the other side of the spectrum! (relatively speaking) Jul 12 at 6:58
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    As an engineering graduate, have you worked in project management? I've been working in construction management for 5 or so years, and all the best PMs I know are actually very good at working with individual whims and different personalities. On paper, project management can be broken down into rules and metrics, but on actual projects you spend a lot of time dealing with people and their attitudes/perspectives. Learning to navigate that seems a lot like an art to me.
    – JMac
    Jul 12 at 19:11
  • Yes, I can see how dealing with individual personalities is an art, though that features in a great many fields. Perhaps I was too harsh on PM, but in the context of book titles, I still think the english language usage/context is marketing and promotion rather than an attempt to honestly convey the interpersonal side of PM Jul 14 at 0:45
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Back back a long time ago

  • Nature : God's work
  • Art : Man's work (Hence Artisan for example.)

Art can refer to the application of any technology. Cooking, farming, bridge-building. Mostly this is about skills learned then applied. However art implies a culture which is more than reading a text book and ticking boxes. Practitioners will come to appreciate not only the subtleties of the skills required in their own work but also acknowledge some people excel or innovate.

It is possible to consider a pamphlet entitled: The art of tying shoelaces. That's stretching usage but it's not about making pretty pictures with knots, rather selecting the right lacing for the right situation and using shortcuts or avoiding breakages at very inconvenient times.

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  • This answer is more like to answer a comment I got "Do you want to know whether the word “art” in English can be applied to something that is not generally regarded as creative? "? lol. Thanks! Jul 13 at 1:50
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No, not at all.

Grammatically, it should but as so often, grammar counts for less than semantics or idiom and grammar takes no account of the meaning of words. Grammar does not care whether "You are a liar" or "That is so" are true…

The example "The Art of XYZ" relies solely on grammar where, for instance, The Art of War means what it seems to say, on all three levels.

Re-name Machiavelli's The Prince as The Art of Kingship and that, too, would be triply appropriate.

Each language has its own lists of what are generally considered "arts" and even then, different native speakers might argue until the long after the cows have come home.

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  • Jolly Good! I expect that made sense to you when writing it when pissed. It makes no sense... Or perhaps we could have an English translation?
    – Peter Fox
    Jul 13 at 22:39
  • @PeterFox Could you put that back in the fox's hole? Could you turn to courtesy or logic - preferably, both - or must you rely on spleen? Clearly, more follows. Jul 15 at 0:09
  • @PeterFox Do you not accept, grammar often, if not always, counts for less than semantics or idiom? Either way, do you accept grammar takes no account of the meaning of words… that grammar does not care whether "You are a liar" or "That is so" are true or false? Jul 15 at 0:18
  • @PeterFox Do you not accept that "The Art of XYZ" relies solely on grammar"? That the example being "… of XYZ" as opposed to anything in itself meaningful necessarily mean that nothing but grammar could matter there? Jul 15 at 0:20
  • @PeterFox Could you put your personal combination of comprehension and spleen where they belong, which is not here? Jul 15 at 0:22
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There is, in fact, a paradox about book titles that begin with The Art of..... The word art itself is quite odd. When the word art appears on a school timetable, it means something very specific: the visual arts, involving mainly the creation of things to be looked at. Then there is the broader use of the arts, which includes photography, drama, music, ballet, drama and so on.

It can also be used to describe some apparently mundane practical activity, which is in some way described as tricky, requiring skill, patience or concentration. Papering a wall, for example could be so described.

It does not stop there. The word 'art' can be used to mean 'a skill'. So you can have a book called The art of war, or, indeed, the art of persuasion.

Going further are the 'dark arts', sinister, devilish skills. These include a politician's ability to remove a political rival without anyone knowing he did anything or, even if they suspect finding out how it was done.

So the word art has a very wide range of usage. You can see this very well set out in the Cambridge English Dictionary:-

https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/art

This range should not be surprising. The word art is derived from the Latin word ars, meaning, of course, art. The Roman poet of the Late 1st century BCE to early 1st century CE composed poem called Ars Poetica, normally (and rightly) translated The Art of Poetry. In it he makes the famous statement:-

"Ars est celare artem" or *the art lies in concealing the art (ie the skill which created the art).

Perhaps it would be better to translate it as

The skill lies in concealing the skill.

A contemporary of Horace, Publius Ovidius Naso (Ovid), was exiled by the emperor Augustus, allegedly for publishing a didactic poem called ars amatoria or the art of love. This account of how to seduce married women was supposed to be tongue-in-cheek, but fell foul foul of Augustus' morality legislation. But it was certainly a 'How To' poem.

What comes from all of this is that the use of the word art is essentially contextual. A writer needs to make sure that a particular intended meaning is clear from the context.

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  • I am sorry I have accepted the answer from Davislor part of reason was I am a software engineer and "The Art of Computer Programming" is kind like a bible to us software engineer. But I also learned a lot from your answer. Jul 13 at 14:17
  • @Qiulang You are welcome. And do not worry: the point of the 'accept' tick is not to reward the answerer. I am glad you found both useful. Of course, with computer programming, there are elements of intuition and presentation, so that even computing has more to it than just raw skill.
    – Tuffy
    Jul 13 at 20:31
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"Art" in English can connote expertise beyond the norm, rather than creativity. In the book "Oliver Twist", the "Artful Dodger" is named so for his skill at escaping arrest. This may imply some creativity, too, but not in the aesthetically creative sense of creating a song or a painting, and the skillfulness is the primary meaning.

Likewise, a "term of art" is "a term that has a specialized meaning in a particular field or profession" (Merriam-Webster), used by those possessing a certain skill, without regard to creativity. For instance, in the sciences, "theory" and "law" may be considered terms of art, with slightly different meanings than they have in popular usage. This is a not a reference to creativity, but to technical rigor.

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